International chemical weapons experts enter Syria’s Douma
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Lone soldier center, Masa program commemorate Israel’s fallen in English

Thousands of young Jews from diaspora communities pay respects; mothers of fallen soldiers Michael Levin and Max Steinberg to speak at Ammunition Hill ceremony

Israeli soldiers visit the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery on the eve of Memorial Day, in Tel Aviv, Tuesday, April 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israeli soldiers visit the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery on the eve of Memorial Day, in Tel Aviv, Tuesday, April 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they happened.

Syria strikes ‘for honor of international community’ — Macron

STRASBOURG, France — France, Britain and the United States carried out airstrikes targeting chemical weapons sites in Syria to defend the “honor of the international community,” French President Emmanuel Macron says.

In an impassioned defense to the European Parliament, Macron says the allies had to act to defend global rules and accused Syrian leader Bashar Assad of being “at war with his people.”

“Those who are shocked by images of women, of children who have been attacked by chlorine, we need to stand up to defend our rights. What are we going to say, our rights and principles are just for us? No, that simply isn’t acceptable,” Macron says.

“Three countries have intervened, and let me be quite frank, quite honest — this is for the honor of the international community,” Macron says.

He adds that the strikes were conducted “within a legitimate, multilateral framework, and in a very targeted way without any human victim, not a single human victim, to destroy three sites where chemical weapons were being produced or processed.

“These strikes don’t necessarily resolve anything but I think they were important,” he says.

— AFP

Female IDF officer told she can’t read memorial prayer in military ceremony

A female IDF officer is reportedly told by the military rabbinate she cannot read a prayer for fallen soldiers at her unit’s commemoration ceremony on Memorial Day, which begins tonight.

According to reports in Hebrew-language media, the officer, who serves in a unit in Central Command, was given the part by the organizers of the ceremony. Later, she was informed by the NCO arranging the ceremony that the rabbinate forbade a woman reading the “Yizkor,” or “Remember,” prayer.

A male officer was assigned to read the prayer in the ceremony, which took place Tuesday morning.

The IDF spokesperson’s unit says the decision to replace the female officer “was caused by a mistake. There is no order in the IDF that forbids a woman to read ‘Yizkor’ in a military ceremony. We must emphasize that female officers and enlisted troops took part in this morning’s ceremony. This will be clarified and emphasized” to the unit in question.

66-year-old bicyclist killed in Tel Aviv after being hit by a truck

A 66-year-old man riding an electric bicycle is killed in a collision with a truck near the Azrieli Mall in central Tel Aviv.

Rescuers pronounce the man dead at the scene.

Also Tuesday, a 50-year-old pedestrian is seriously hurt when a bus hits him on Jerusalem’s Hebron Road.

Billboards appear outside UK Labour’s HQ over failure to act on anti-Semitism

The British Jewish newspaper Jewish News, a partner publication of The Times of Israel, reports that three billboards appeared on trucks outside Labour Party headquarters this morning as part of a campaign to remind the party of action it must take to tackle anti-Semitism.

The paper reports on the initiative:

Inspired by Oscar-nominated film ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ the initiative was launched by Jewish activists, who call themselves the ‘Community United against Labour Party Antisemitism,’ or Culpa.
They raised thousands of pounds in a crowdfunding campaign involving 130 donors, with adverts appearing around Westminster between 8am and 4pm today.

The ads were driven on a route including Victoria Street, where the party’s headquarters are located, as well as past Parliament Square, Westminster Bridge, Lambeth Palace Road, York Road, Belvedere Road, Millbank, Lambeth Bridge, Whitehall, Strand, and Waterloo Bridge.

The three billboards carry the messages: “Holocaust deniers harboured by Labour,” “Failure to act on antisemitism” and “Institutional antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour.”

Three mobile billboards outside the headquarters of the British Labour Party decrying what critics say is the party’s failure to deal with the anti-Semitism in its ranks. (UK Jewish News)

Kremlin says airstrikes hurt Syria peace process

The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin has told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the United States, Great Britain and France have violated international law and hurt the peace process in Syria by launching airstrikes at targets in Damascus.

Russia has condemned the allied strikes on Sunday but refrained from responding to the attack on its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The Kremlin says Tuesday in a read-out of a phone call between Putin and Merkel that the prospect for peace talks for Syria were damaged by the airstrikes, which were carried out in retaliation for the reported poison gas attack on a rebel-controlled suburb of Damascus.

— AP

Airborne Molotov cocktail from Gaza starts a fire in Israel

A fire broke out in a grove outside Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Gaza border, after a kite bearing a container of burning liquid was flown into it from the coastal enclave, in the fourth such incident in as many days, according to the local fire station.

A spokesman from the station says firefighters are working to put out the blaze, but that it is not yet under control.

This method of airborne arson was attempted on Friday, but failed. However, every day since, Gazans have succeeded in flying kites to which they had affixed Molotov cocktails and other incendiary devices into Israeli territory.

The IDF did not immediately comment on plans to combat the practice.

— Judah Ari Gross

US Orthodox groups condemn Haredi extremists’ attacks on IDF soldiers, police

Orthodox Jewish organizations in America are condemning attacks by ultra-Orthodox religious extremists on Israeli soldiers and police officers.

In recent months there has been an increase in violent attacks against religious Jews in Israel who join the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police.

The leaders of the Orthodox Union, Rabbinical Council of America and National Council of Young Israel have issued official statements condemning such attacks. The statements were issued at the request of New York Orthodox activist David Nyer, the activist says in a news release sent to JTA.

Moishe Bane, president of the Orthodox Union, said in a statement that “violence by one Jew against another, whether physical or otherwise, is an assault on the Torah values that have been passed down through our mesorah (tradition), from generation to generation. Any such attack by Jews against soldiers of the IDF, to whom every Jew owes immeasurable respect and gratitude, is an attack against each and every member of the Jewish community, and provokes shame and regret in us all.”

RCA executive vice president Rabbi Mark Dratch says: “These attacks against both Israeli soldiers and police are violations of Jewish law and show a gross lack of appreciation and respect for those who defend all the citizens of the State of Israel. These attacks further divide and alienate segments of the Jewish community from each other and from Torah.”

— JTA

Two hurt in Ramat Gan in latest electric bicycle accident

Two electric bicycle riders are hurt, one seriously and the other lightly, when they are hit by a bus on Hayarden Street in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.

The two are identified as a 20-year-old male and a 16-year-old female.

The accidents follow a collision earlier today near Azrieli Mall in Tel Aviv in which a truck hit and killed a 66-year-old electric bicyclist.

Four Israelis hurt in Montenegro car accident

Four Israelis are hurt in a car accident while on a tour of Montenegro.

All four are in their seventies. Three were moderately hurt and one was lightly hurt, according to the Ynet news site.

There were no immediate details available about the circumstances of the accident.

They are now being flown back to Israel for treatment.

International chemical weapons experts enter Syria’s Douma

Syrian state media reports Tuesday that investigators from the world’s chemical watchdog, the OPCW, had entered Douma, a town outside Damascus where an alleged gas attack 10 days ago left dozens dead.

“Experts from the chemical weapons committee enter the town of Douma,” state news agency SANA writers, referring to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

— AFP

Commemoration ceremonies begin for Israel’s fallen soldiers

The nationwide ceremonies for Israel’s Memorial Day, which begins at sundown today, begin in the afternoon with a commemoration event at the Yad Labanim memorial for fallen soldiers in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein take part in the ceremony, as well as top army brass and families of fallen soldiers.

Netanyahu earlier today took part in the Foreign Ministry’s ceremony commemorating members of Israel’s foreign service who fell in the line of duty.

Israel prepares to remember 23,646 fallen soldiers and 3,134 terror victims

Israel’s annual Memorial Day begins at sundown today, during which the country will mourn its fallen soldiers and members of other security services, as well as those killed in terror attacks throughout Israel’s history.

In all, 71 new names were added over the past year to the roster of 23,645 who died defending the country, nearly half of the new individuals passing due to wounds and disabilities sustained in the service.

Twelve names were also added to the list of terror victims who perished because of attacks, bringing the total to 3,134.

The main national ceremony, which takes place at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, is set to begin at 8 p.m. A one-minute siren will ring out nationwide during which Israelis will stand silently in respect for the fallen.

A second two-minute siren will sound tomorrow at 11 a.m., launching the daytime commemoration ceremonies centered on Jerusalem’s Mt. Herzl.

At 7:45 p.m. tomorrow, Memorial Day will end with the national torch-lighting ceremony at Mt. Herzl that will usher in Israel’s 70th Independence Day.

Netanyahu: ‘We don’t forget’ Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, held by Hamas in Gaza

At a commemoration ceremony for Israel’s fallen soldiers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that “we don’t forget for a moment our missing [soldiers], Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and we are committed to returning the boys home, and also Avera Mengistu.”

Goldin and Shaul fought and died in Gaza in the 2014 war, and their bodies are being held there by Hamas. Mengistu, a civilian believed to be mentally ill, crossed the border into Gaza and is also being held there by Hamas.

Turkey, Iran vow to continue alliance with Russia on Syria

The presidents of Turkey and Iran on Tuesday vow to press on with their alliance alongside Russia over Syria, the Turkish presidency says after Ankara backed strikes by the US and its allies against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Russia and Iran are the key allies of Assad and their military intervention in Syria is widely seen as helping him stay in power and tipping the balance in the civil war.

But Moscow and Tehran have over the last months worked increasingly closely with Ankara — which has throughout the seven-year war called for Assad’s ouster — in seeking to find a solution to the conflict.

In an interview with French television, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested that the weekend airstrikes against Syrian government targets had succeeded in engineering a split in the Russia-Turkey alliance.

But a Turkish presidential source said, following telephone talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, that the two sides had vowed the alliance must continue.

— AFP

Polish nationalists seek probe of Rivlin over Holocaust comments

WARSAW, Poland — A Polish nationalist group asks prosecutors to investigate whether Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin broke a new Holocaust speech law during a visit to Poland last week.

The National Movement says it believes Rivlin might have violated controversial legislation that criminalizes falsely blaming the Polish nation or Poles for the crimes of Nazi Germany.

The group’s vice president, Krzysztof Bosak, says it formally filed its request to prosecutors on Tuesday.

He says the matter concerns Rivlin reportedly telling his Polish counterpart that Polish anti-Semitism enabled the implementation of Germany’s genocide. The alleged comments during commemorations at Auschwitz last Thursday were carried by an Israeli newspaper and were not part of Rivlin’s public remarks.

Bosak acknowledged his group was testing the law, which is not being enforced in practice after sparking a dispute with Israel.

— AP

US city votes to bar police exchanges with Israel

The City Council in Durham, North Carolina, votes unanimously to bar the city’s police department from international exchanges in which the officers receive “military-style training,” in a slap at such programs held with the Israeli army and police.

The resolution, which states that the council “opposes international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training since such exchanges do not support the kind of policing we want here in the City of Durham,” was approved by the council in a 6-0 vote Monday night. It is the first city in the United States to officially ban such training, according to Jewish Voice for Peace, which actively worked to pass the resolution.

The resolution also states: “We recognize and share the deep concern about militarization of police forces around the country. We know that racial profiling and its subsequent harms to communities of color have plagued policing in our nation and in our own community.”

Born out of a petition created last fall by Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement targeting Israel, the resolution brought together several partners under the banner of Demilitarize! From Durham2Palestine.

According to the petition, “The Israeli Defense Forces and the Israel Police have a long history of violence and harm against Palestinian people and Jews of color. They persist in using tactics of extrajudicial killing, excessive force, racial profiling, and repression of social justice movements.

“These tactics further militarize US police forces that train in Israel, and this training helps the police terrorize Black and Brown communities here in the US. Additionally, such practices erode our constitutional rights to due process, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.”

It called on the city to “immediately halt any partnerships that the Durham Police Department has or might enter into with the Israeli Defense Forces and/or the Israel Police.”

According to the City Council resolution, Police Chief C.J. Davis said in a memo to City Manager Tom Bonfield that “there has been no effort while I have served as Chief of Police to initiate or participate in any exchange to Israel, nor do I have any intention to do so.”

Some 50 people on both sides of the resolution spoke before the vote, according to the local television station WRAL. Some speakers criticized the resolution as anti-Semitic or objected that Israel was specifically mentioned. Others questioned why such a resolution was necessary, since no such exchanges were planned.

Former Police Chief Jose Lopez spent a week in Israel undergoing training during his tenure. He told the council that none of the training involved “militarization.” He said the training dealt with “leadership, it was learning about terrorism and then learning about how to interact with people who are involved in mass casualty situations and how to manage mass casualty situations.”

Noah Rubin-Blose of the Triangle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace said following the vote, “Abolishing police exchanges between Durham and Israel is a step towards a true community safety that cares for people’s needs and is not modeled after occupation and apartheid.”

— JTA

$50m donation to Israel’s Technion to support new science center

A San Francisco-based foundation has given the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology a $50 million contribution, which will support a new quantum science center at the Haifa university.

The gift from the Helen Diller Family Foundation “will strengthen the Technion’s position as a world leader in quantum science and engineering by providing the means for new faculty recruitment, establishing new infrastructure, seed funding for research and development, and educating a new generation of engineers with a mastery of quantum mechanics,” according to the university.

The center will be named the Helen Diller Center for Quantum Science, Matter, and Engineering.

Quantum mechanics is a fundamental theory in physics that describes nature at the smallest scales of energy levels of atoms and subatomic particles.

The center will advance basic sciences while using the principles of quantum mechanics to study various engineering fields, and develop applications for industries. It also will serve as a platform for collaboration between Technion scientists and engineers in other fields.

— JTA

Diamonds in desert rocks came from long-lost planet

PARIS, France — A car-sized asteroid that exploded in Earth’s atmosphere in 2008, raining down diamond-bearing rocks, was a fragment of a Solar System planet that existed billions of years ago, researchers say.

The parent planet was about as large as Mars or Mercury, and was formed in our Solar System’s first 10 million years before being shattered to pieces in collisions with other space rocks, a European team reports.

Using high-definition microscopy, the researchers measured the composition of diamonds locked up in rocks left scattered in the Nubian desert of northern Sudan after an asteroid dubbed 2008 TC3 crashed into Earth.

They concluded the precious stones must have formed at pressures that could only have existed on a long-lost Mars- to Mercury-sized planet.

These are the smallest two planets in our Solar System, which was forged some 4.6 billion years ago.

The measurements provide “the first compelling evidence for such a large body that has since disappeared,” the research team wrote in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications. And it boosts the theory that today’s Solar System planets were forged from the remains of tens of large “proto-planets.”

— AFP

WATCH: Masa holds thousands-strong English-language memorial ceremony

An English-language memorial ceremony for Israel’s fallen soldiers is taking place at the Latrun Armored Corps Memorial west of Jerusalem.

The ceremony, organized by Masa, a year-long program in Israel for college-age diaspora Jews, is attended by some 4,000 Masa participants, as well as Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who also serves as diaspora minister.

Masa Israel Journey

Posted by Masa Israel Journey on Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Jewish leaders from the US and other countries are also taking part in the ceremony, which “will largely focus on the various contributions of Israel’s fallen lone soldiers,” many of whom hail from diaspora communities, Masa says in a statement.

According to the press release, “the opening ceremony will include the lighting of the torch by the family of Sgt. Sean Carmeli, a lone IDF soldier from Texas who was killed during the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza, along with representatives from the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. Masa will also remember soldiers of French and Russian descent, as well as Michael Levin, a lone soldier who was killed during the Second Lebanon War after moving to Israel from Pennsylvania, and Ezra Schwartz, a Masa participant and Massachusetts native who was studying at Yeshivat Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh when he was killed in a 2015 shooting attack while traveling to a volunteer activity.”

“The commemoration will end with reflections from Elyasaf Peretz, the brother of Eliraz and Uriel Peretz, who were both killed in combat in Gaza and Lebanon in 2010 and 1998, respectively. Peretz will discuss how he and his family have coped with Yom Hazikaron each year since the family’s loss.”

The ceremony is also being streamed live on Masa’s Facebook page.

WATCH: Michael Levin Center hosts English-language ceremony to remember fallen lone soldiers

The Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center, which aids IDF soldiers from overseas serving without family in the country, is hosting a special English-language Memorial Day ceremony for fallen soldiers at Ammunition Hill in northern Jerusalem.

The ceremony started at 7:55 p.m., five minutes before the sounding of the commemoration siren and in parallel with other ceremonies taking place nationwide.

https://www.facebook.com/soldiercenter/videos/1757690854288194/

It is being broadcast live on the center’s website and Facebook page.

Parents of fallen lone soldiers will speak at the ceremony, which focuses on the lone soldiers who gave their lives for the country. The ceremony is titled “The Sons We Lost,” and will hear from the mothers of two lone soldiers who were killed in the line of duty, Michael Levin and Max Steinberg.

IDF cancels F-15 squadron’s participation in US exercise amid Iran tensions

The IDF announces it is pulling its F-15 squadron out of the Red Flag joint training exercise with US forces slated for May in Alaska.

The F-15s are staying put in Israel, according to sources, in preparation for possible escalation on the Syrian front, as the army expects Iran to avenge an alleged Israeli strike on Iranian forces in a Syrian air force base called T4 earlier this month.

In a statement, the IDF says, “The Air Force’s participation in the Red Flag exercise in Alaska will take place as planned in May. In light of assessments by the Air Force, it was decided to change the planes participating in the exercise.”

The forces being sent instead of the F-15s include aerial refueling planes.

Palestinians say IDF fired a tank shell at a Hamas post in Gaza

Palestinian media reports that the IDF fired a tank shell at a Hamas post in the central Gaza Strip.

There is no confirmation of the report from the IDF, and no immediate word on possible casualties.

At Memorial Day ceremony, Bennett warns Iran: ‘Do not try us’

In comments at an English-language Memorial Day ceremony at the Latrun Armored Corps Memorial west of Jerusalem, Education Minister Naftali Bennett says, “We are surrounded by enemies. Only a few weeks ago Iran sent an armed drone towards us. The Iranian octopus is trying to strangle us and break our spirit. We have a 3,800-year-old nation, with the strongest spirit on earth. Israel is stronger than those against us. From here I tell the leaders of Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah – do not try us.”

He opens the speech comparing Memorial Day with Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“Last week, we remembered the price we paid for not having a state,” Bennett says. “Now we remember the price we have to pay for having a state. In two days at Auschwitz we lost the same number of soldiers we lost since the founding of Israel. Never will we depend on anyone but ourselves.”

Israeli extremists shout ‘death to Arabs’ outside Israeli-Palestinian ceremony

Dozens of extreme right-wing protesters demonstrate outside an Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day service in Tel Aviv.

Protesters burn a Palestinian flag, hurl insults at attendees, and briefly chant “death to Arabs.”

The demonstration was organized by the Otzma Yehudit party. Among its speakers are activists Benzi Gopstein and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

The ceremony, put on by Israeli and Palestinian families who lost loved ones in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was able to go ahead on Tuesday when the High Court of Justice overturned Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s decision not to allow some 110 Palestinian participants to enter Israel from the West Bank in order to take part in the ceremony.

In Memorial Day speech, Rivlin calls for national unity

President Reuven Rivlin, speaking at the national commemoration ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, urges unity on this Memorial Day.

“We will not stop for a moment to work for the country your children fought for,” Rivlin tells bereaved families at the ceremony, stressing that the military was above any political disagreement.

“We did not leap into the tunnels as right-wing or left-wing, we did not lay in the trenches as the periphery and moshav communities, we did not storm the enemy as kibbutzim, villages, and cities,” the president says.

“We will continue to be a society that fearlessly and relentlessly holds back any enemy which disputes our right for a home in our land,” Rivlin adds. “At the same time, we won’t let any rift, gap, or divide embed itself among us.”

IDF chief says army is a unifying force in Israeli society

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot hails the IDF as a unifying force in Israeli society in his speech at the national commemoration ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, saying that unity was a “weapon” against its enemies “which lets us continue standing on this plaza.”

“Even now, we know our journey isn’t over,” he adds. “Our enemies seek to consolidate their power across our borders, to destroy our fragile daily routine, and attack our country’s sovereignty.

“In the face of every threat — our soldiers stand determined at the front of the battlefield, and the forefront of technology, proving that on the boundaries of this country stands a powerful army; an army with unprecedented capabilities that ensures behind its lines security and prosperity,” Eisenkot says.

EU tells Turkey to be ‘neighborly’ to win membership

The EU on Tuesday criticizes Turkey’s efforts to win membership of the bloc, saying recent spats with European states were “not conducive to good neighborly relations.”

In its latest report on Ankara’s long-stalled bid to join the union, the European Commission says there were still “serious shortcomings” on democracy and the rule of law.

But it focuses particularly on rows including Ankara’s arrest of two Greek soldiers and its promise to prevent the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot government from exploring for oil and gas.

“Tensions in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean were not conducive to good neighborly relations and undermined regional stability and security,” the report says.

“Bilateral relations with several EU member states deteriorated, including at times offensive and unacceptable rhetoric.”

The report adds: “Turkey needs to commit itself unequivocally to good neighborly relations.”

EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini says there was no chance of ending the current freeze on opening new “chapters” in Turkey’s EU membership process.

— AFP

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International chemical weapons experts enter Syria’s Douma

Syrian state media reports Tuesday that investigators from the world’s chemical watchdog, the OPCW, had entered Douma, a town outside Damascus where an alleged gas attack 10 days ago left dozens dead.

“Experts from the chemical weapons committee enter the town of Douma,” state news agency SANA writers, referring to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

— AFP